John and Sue Hoover spent five months building their split-level, Spanish-style house here, and it became an all-consuming project. John worked at the site, while Sue did the buying. They managed to see each other at breakfast.

Their lives were tied up with the project long before the first stakes were driven. First, they designed the house and built a cardboard model. John had spent the whole previous. Once ground was broken, he worked at the site every day - from the time he returned from his job as a high school science teacher until roughly 1 a.m.

There were plenty of frustrations. The carpet installer made off with nearly a roomful of rugs the Hoovers planned to save. The septic tank contractor told them they'd have to move their garage because it was sitting where the drain field ought to go.

The frigid winter of 1977 played havoc with their building schedule. They were forced to move into the house two months before it was ready. Sue, who was pregnant, gave birth to their second son five days after they move.

But today, the Hoovers are satisfied. They saved money and got what they wanted.

"I don't like to hire people to do things for me," says John Hoover.I believethat if you want to, you can do them yourself."

He also wanted something that would reflect his own ideas about design. In this area 60 miles northwest of Washington, where many builders are still putting up standard, post-World War II-style ranch houses, the Hoovers were determined to have a house that was both functional and imaginative.

"In so many of the houses around here, you look at the outside and know exactly how the interior is laid out," John said, "We wanted our house to be just the opposite. We wanted the outside to give no indication of the inside."

It doesn't. From the front, the low-slung brick structure offers no suggestions of the 20-foot cathedral ceiling in the living room or of the soaring, pumice-stone fireplace that dominates it. Below the fireplace is a "conversation pit. Above it, a long balcony - John's den - overlooks the room.

John had his final plans drawn up by the consultant to a local lumber company, who also checked the spans and other technical details before the prints went to the building permits office.

By buying mostly from one supplier, the Hoovers felt they not only saved money, but also reaped a lot of good advice. "They would tell me not only what I needed, but what quality," John said. "They would say 'here you need something more expensive,' and they would tell me why."

John wanted to do as much of the work as he could. He had never built a house before, but he had remodelled an four-unit apartment building.

"I had wired a room," he said, "and if you can wire a room, you can wire a house."

He wanted to do his own framing but decided against it because he was too busy trying to coordinate materials and deliveries.

The Hoover feel that part of their luck in finding good subcontractors stemmed from their decision to begin construction in October and continue through the winter. "When it was cold they wanted work, and we had no trouble getting them there. When it got warm and jobs were plentiful, it was the complete opposite."

With the aid of a heater left in the house by the framing crew, John did the plumbing and wiring, put in insulation and hung the drywall. His one helper was 16-year-old Bob Bentley, who became indispensible.

Aside from framing, the only jobs he subcontracted out were heating, dry-wall finish, septic system and some of the masonry. "One thing I learned about subcontractors," he said, "was always to call them early in the morning. If you don't call them by 6.30, they're gone."